Dr. Mohammed Amin Ahmad Jefri, the Deputy Speaker of Saudi Arabia’s consultative council – Majlis Ash-Shura – was warmly welcomed to the European Parliament on 11 October by members of the Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET).
Dr Al-Jefri was first introduced by the chair Ioan Paşcu (from the EPP group, Romania). Both men highlighted in their opening statements that open and regular dialogue is of great importance so that Saudi Arabia and EU can work in partnership to overcome the raft of common challenges they face. Dr al-Jefri went on to make a comprehensive opening statement covering EU-KSA cooperation, regional issues including Iran, Syria, Yemen, the fight against terrorism and internal issues including Saudi Arabia’s rapid development as a state, women’s rights and the legal system. He also touched on the recently passed American Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which he criticised as eroding sovereign immunity and endangering the international legal order.
The importance of the EU-KSA relationship was mirrored by the chair of the European Parliament’s Delegation to the Arab Peninsula Michèle Aliot-Marie (from EPP group, France), who underscored that candid dialogue remains the foundation of the trusted partnership that allows the EU and the Kingdom to work together to prevent radicalisation, counter terrorism and help bring peace to Yemen and Syria.
Despite differences of opinion between some committee members and Dr Al-Jefri, the comprehensive exchange of views proved to be fruitful. Dr Al-Jefri gave full answers to a series of questions from Ulrike Lunacek (Austria, Greens), Richard Howitt and Afzal Khan (UK, S&D), Javier Couso Permuy (Spain, GUE/NGL), Fabio Massimo Castaldo (Italy, EFDD) and Mario Borghezio (Italy, ENF), and MEPs learnt, amongst other things, about the extent of the Kingdom’s humanitarian relief efforts and the 2.5 million Syrians brothers welcomed into the Kingdom since the beginning of the conflict. Dr Nhuad, one of the thirty female members of the Shura Council, spoke on the development of the role of women in Saudi society, highlighting participation in higher education and the workforce, and representation in politics. She added that restrictions on women in Saudi Arabia are primarily down to social mores rather than laws, and that the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 transformation plan will further boost women’s participation in the workforce.
Before closing the session, Dr Al-Jefri thanked members of the committee for their interest and the respectful exchange of views, and encouraged them to visit the Kingdom to make up their own mind about Saudi Arabia based on first-hand experiences.
A recording of the exchange of views can be streamed here.